Kirtle problems

I’m still not sure which one of the two-colored kirtles I want.

The one I was thinking about will probably be too difficult and time-consuming for now, so I thought that another kirtle with a simple skirt with brown silk border, sleeves with black velvet decoration and a black velvet bodice would be easier and quicker to make. There’s only one problem with that: I can’t find any reference pictures. What I understand from the description is that the skirt and the sleeves are made of same violet brown cloth and the bodice is of black velvet. Are there any pictorial proof that these kind of kirtles existed?? And are we still talking about doublet bodices or is this a “normal” kirtle with the bodice attached? One solution could be that the skirt, bodice and sleeves are all separate so that the sleeves are attached to the shoulder straps of the petticoat and a sleeveless or short-sleeved doublet bodice is worn over. This is of course just my speculation, so the search continues..


Gold coif: details and observations

The more portraits I see the more evident it becomes that there are as many gold coifs as there are wearers. I’ve also seen a couple of extant hair nets and caps that are all constructed a bit differently but still produce the same basic shape. Therefore it can’t be said that one pattern is correct and the other isn’t. This one is my interpretation of Catherine’s coif, and the form and the pattern are based on the pictures of the Jagellonica sisters posted earlier.


I’ll post the pattern or a picture of the whole coif later. In the meantime, here is a detail picture of my coif-in-progress. The base is sandy gold colored hand woven silk that I had in my stash, and the “netting” is stem or crewel stitch embroidery executed in two different shades of gold. There are also four-petaled flowers made of gold beads.

The coif could get pearls too, if it looks like it could use some when it’s finished.

Doublet or not doublet?

The kirtle I plan to reconstruct has a violet brown skirt and a black velvet bodice. There are few kirtles listed with the same combination, and even Catherine’s ladies-in-waiting had those. There are also a couple of finer kirtles that have different colored skirts and bodices, and separate pieces that don’t seem to match with each other. So, what’s the deal with these?

First I was trying to browse through portraits to find kirtles with different colored skirts and bodices and had no luck there. However I found out that they seem to be more common in the 17th century among the working women. Could that be the case for the 16th century too? There are five different colored kirtles listed in the end of the chapter indicating that they were somehow inferior; all lists are written from the most expensive garment towards the worn and cheaper ones. All five skirts are violet brown, three are made of silk and two of cloth, and the bodices are of black velvet. In the list of clothes of ladies-in-waiting there are three kirtles that all have a violet brown skirt and a black velvet bodice. One of the skirts is made of cloth and two of silk. In both cases the skirts and/or bodices have applied black velvet decoration on them.

However there is one kirtle that can not be described as working dress. It’s in the very beginning of the chapter and it has a red velvet skirt and a bodice of gold cloth. The bodice is decorated with pearls and there are also three pearl strands on the hem of the skirt.

Nearly all of the 17th century pictures of working women depict sleeveless kirtles, but all the kirtles in the catalogs had (decorated) sleeves. That led to a thought of a doublet. Could it be possible that the black velvet bodice means that? At least in England doublets are associated with working women, and women certainly wore doublets at the end of the 16th century. But are they period for 1560’s?

Finally I stumbled upon a picture of Angelica Agliardi de Nicolini, painted by Giovanni Battista Moroni in the 1560’s.

Angelica was from Bergamo, Italy, where women apparently adopted men’s fashions including doublets. The most interesting thing is that Bergamo had close relations to Milan, where Catherine’s mother was from and which allegedly affected the Polish court where Catherine grew up. It’s also exciting to notice that Angelica wears a veil and has a zibellini in her hand; Catherine had Italian veils to wear over her gold coifs and a jewel-encrusted zibellini. Also Angelica’s overgown matches the descriptions of Catherine’s gowns, so this just might be how Catherine too looked like.

Follower_of_Francesco_Salviati_del_Rossi_Portrait_of_a_LadyAnother picture of the same style, by Follower of Francesco Salviati del Rossi.

Gold coifs and velvet bonnets (but mostly coifs)

Since it’s practically impossible to concentrate on one thing at a time, I have started thinking about the head wear. Excluding the easily explainable bonnets, veils, diadems, hats and crowns, there are items in the catalogs that need a closer look. The most difficult ones to interpret are myssy and lakki (Finnish, the Dowry) and huffua, luffua and myssa (Swedish, the Inventory). The cut and style of these is not obvious at all.

Myssy and lakki are used concurrently when describing velvet fur lined caps. In the Inventory these caps are referred to as luffua and myssa. Myssy can also mean gold and pearl caps that seem to have no obvious resemblance to the fur caps. These are called huffua in the Inventory. So we could make a rough conclusion that finely decorated myssy and huffua are caps that are called coif or caul in English, and that lakki and luffua are fur caps used in winter time. Since I’m not interested in the winter garments at the moment, I’ll take a closer look only on the coifs.

As mentioned, we know nothing about the cut and style of the coifs. According to the Dowry Catherine had 13 pearl caps and 24 gold caps, and in the Inventory there are 33 gold caps, only two pearl caps and one silver cap. It is possible that the caps or coifs are the same in both catalogs, since the numbers of the caps combined are 37 and 36. They just may be listed differently.

There are many examples in the contemporary portraits that show gold or pearl caps in the backs of the heads of the sitters. Indeed Catherine herself in addition to her sisters and sisters-in-law are depicted wearing them, so in my opinion it’s safe to make the conclusion that these are the gold and pearl caps described in the catalogs.

Jagellonica sisters

The Jagellonica sisters wearing gold cauls and bonnets. First and second two different portraits of Catherine, next Sofia and Anna.

Usually there is some kind of other cap on top of the coif, but it could also be worn alone. According to different portraits the coifs could be reticulated, meaning they were netted using gold ribbons or strings of pearls, or they could have a solid base fabric on which the pearls were sewn or the gold embroidered.

All the Jagellonica sisters seem to wear a solid based coif in the portraits, so that’s what I’ll be going for. There are different instructions available for making a caul or escoffion, as this cap is sometimes called. I however wasn’t satisfied in any of them and did a little research of my own. As you can see, the coif looks a bit different in every picture -even in two pictures of a same person, although the cap itself is different too. Different shapes mean that it can’t be a pillbox hat, as some reconstructions suggest, but rather a coif, literally. There were shaped women’s coifs already in the middle ages (the St. Birgitta coif), and there are many surviving examples especially from England of embroidered coifs of the 16th century. I combined these two styles to make an “in-between -era” women’s coif. I had some hand-woven sandy gold colored silk that I’ll embroider with gold thread. After I’ve done that I’ll decide if it needs more bling like pearls or gold beads. Pictures will follow!

Petticoat bodice

The shirt is not even nearly finished, but I’ve still started working on the petticoat. Actually the work has been in progress for a few weeks now, because the mundane life is always more or less unfortunately distracting me. Anyway, here is the bodice of the petticoat nearly finished. I apologize for the quality of the pictures, but I’m sure you’ll get the idea.

bodicefrontThe cut is based on a pattern in The Queen’s Servants and the fit was adjusted with a friend. I made the bodice out of red velvet and lined it with red fabric that’s supposed to pretend to be taffeta. There is no interlining because I didn’t think I’ll need one, and was right. My main concern was that the bodice was going to be too short, but as you can see, it reaches my waist just right. The edge on the waist is still raw, so imagine it’s 1 cm shorter and neat.

The bodice is side laced mainly for two reasons. Assuming that Catherine followed the Italian fashion, most of the examples are made this way. The other reason is personal, I like a smooth front better.

bodicesideThe bodice doesn’t seem to fit right, but as you can see it’s not tied properly and I’m trying to pull the temporary lacings tight while taking the photos. Also the shirt is different, it’s too full for a tightly fitting bodice like this. Remember that this is a work in progress and that it’s going to look a bit different when done!

Shirt in progress

Note: I know that words shirt, shift and smock all mean slightly different things in English language. For example shirt is understood as a garment worn by men and smocks were for women. However in my source material there is no such sorting between garments of different sexes, they are all just shirts and that’s why I’m using that word here too. 

As you might remember from earlier, I chose the square-necked and more fitting pattern over the fuller, gathered-necked version. I also wanted to execute the embroidery in black, like in four of Catherine’s shirts.

It’s been about eight weeks since I cut the shirt and started embroidering. The work is very time consuming since I only have a couple of hours per night. Even though I usually don’t like showing works in progress, here’s what I’ve accomplished so far.

IMG_9308The pattern of the shirt is from Janet Arnold’s Patterns of Fashion 4 with very slight adaptations (and as a peculiar detail I didn’t have to adjust the size at all!). It’s n. 76 in the book, from Manchester City Galleries, and it’s dated to c. 1560-80. The pattern of the embroidery on the other hand is an adaptation from a contemporary Italian camicia, which can be found pictured here.

The shirt is of white linen, and the embroidery thread is black cotton. It should be silk, but since I’m only experimenting at this point I decided that I’ll accept it for now. And it looks moderately good at a distance!

I’m planning to do the embroidery over the shoulder seams too, just like in the original, and gather the sleeve into an embroidered cuff. There will also be a narrow black lace in the collar and the sleeves.


Close-up of the embroidery.

By the way, the red velvet on the background is the fabric for the petticoat, just waiting to be cut..


So, let’s start by looking at the first things first. According to the catalogs Catherine did not have any corsets or farthingales but only shirts and petticoats. However one of her few petticoats is “corded” (according to the Finnish translation) and this could mean a stiffened undergarment to wear with the one Spanish kirtle she had. Italians preferred a softer fashion, as did the Germans, and Catherine was probably following this style.


Just like the kirtles there are no mentions of the style or fashion of the shirts or smocks. If we assume that Catherine favored the Italian fashion, there are two styles to choose from. The other one is more closely cut and has a low square neckline, the other one is looser and has a gathered neckline. The looser shirts were in fashion especially in the beginning of the 16th century, and the closely cut ones start to make an appearance in the middle of the century. The two styles collocated, and there is a theory that the looser shirts became house dresses and night gowns while the closely cut ones were used with the skirts.

In fact there are details in the catalogs that suggest this theory. Some of Catherine’s shirts are mentioned in relation to night caps (some of which are Italian by the way), so we could assume that they are loosely cut and gathered. They are also decorated like the extant ones that exist from that period.

BlouseLate 16th century ItalySilk, linen, metal thread 

An Italian shirt, late 16th century

If the assumption is correct, Catherine had at least six loosely cut night shirts, all of which are mentioned in the Dowry. One that had pearls and cross stitch embroidery on the sleeves is mentioned with a night cap, and five shirts have vertical embroidery and gold collars, just like the extant ones.

According to both catalogs Catherine had 33 other shirts. Some of these could be doubles, but there are no exact correspondences between the lists. Eleven shirts in the Dowry are described as gold sleeved, and five have three borders at the hem and golden collars. In the Inventory there is one shirt with three black silk borders at the hem, so this could be one of the five in the Dowry. There are also ten other shirts in the Inventory that are sewn with black silk and have gold collars and sleeves. These could include the five gold collared loose shirts in the Dowry. In addition to these the Inventory lists four shirts embroidered with black silk, one embroidered with red and one with red and green.

A portrait showing square-necked shirt and kirtle. The shirt is embroidered in black and gold. (Bronzino 1551)

So there is no direct evidence in the catalogs that Catherine had any closely cut, square-necked shirts. In my opinion the fact that some shirts are mentioned in relation to night caps and have different decoration than the ones mentioned separately indicate that they are different in other ways too. Catherine also has loads of partlets, as mentioned in the previous post, so it’s likely that majority of her kirtles were square-necked and hence worn with square-necked shirts.

Based on the arguments above I chose to make a square-necked shirt for the first outfit. Even though most of Catherine’s shirts had gold embroidery on them I’ll forget that for now, because I intend to make a more modest outfit at first. Instead I chose black embroidery, which was executed on four of Catherine’s shirts.


There’s a total of ten petticoats in the catalogs, divided in summer and winter skirts in the Dowry. The five winter skirts include a nude colored and a red striped silk skirt lined with sable and marten as well as skirts lined with squirrel. The outer material of the squirrel skirts is not mentioned. One of the two summer skirts is of red-gold transparent velvet lined with red taffeta, and the other is the corded one. According to the Finnish translation of the Dowry it’s made of silk “woven in double” and lined with nude colored linen. In the Inventory there are only three petticoats listed. Two are made of red makeier, which could mean either wool or silk, and lined with fur. All that is said about the third is that it’s made of makeier.

What’s remarkable about the petticoats is that all of them are red. Somewhat surprisingly that matches with the results of a study of English garments of the 16th century. The Tudor Tailor tells us that red was the women’s color and it also was believed to have health benefits.

The choice for the petticoat for the first outfit was very easy, since there are only two skirts for summer wear and only one simpler. The problem however is that there probably are no gold-mixed red velvets that are easily acquired. I’ll have to compromise here and use plain red velvet. One solution could possibly be decorating the fabric, since there are no specific details of how the gold is mixed in.

Looking at the Details & The First Outfit

It would be so tempting to start with the richly decorated, more complex gowns that are made of expensive fabrics, for example the one of red damask that’s decorated with gold and silver passements and lined with two kinds of fur. However, given that I’ve never sewn a renaissance gown before (and that I don’t have the money for the damasks and brocades), it would be wise to start with something simpler. And it would also be wise to start with the underpinnings, because the outer layers have to fit properly.

A whole outfit consists roughly of underpinnings, kirtle, gown, headwear and accessories, all of which can be found in the catalogs. My aim is to wear the outfit next summer, so I’ll be looking at the “summer clothes” (as they are called in the Dowry) lined with fabric, not fur. A detailed description of each layer will follow.

Before the sewing can start, the cut of the clothes have to be determined. It’s “common knowledge” in Finland that Catherine introduced the Spanish fashion here, and also that her wardrobe was full of Italian gowns. However there are only three kirtles listed in the Dowry that state the origin or preferably the style of the dress: two of them are German, one is Spanish. Italian dresses are not mentioned, but there are veils, gurgiellas and nightcaps described as Italian.

Because German, Spanish and Italian items are specially mentioned, they must be exceptional in Catherine’s wardrobe and the basic cut of her kirtles has to be something else. This needs to be researched still, but we can already make some conclusions based on Catherine’s other clothes. There are only ten petticoats and no frontlets, so there probably are no front openings in the skirts. Catherine also has a vast amount of partlets, so the neckhole is probably square. A kirtle like this is actually depicted in a portrait of Catherine’s sister-in-law, Elisabeth of Austria.

Elisabeth of Austria 1542

There are also few other similarities between the portrait and the catalogs. Elisabeth is wearing a gold net or caul on her head and over it a velvet bonnet, both of which are represented in Catherine’s wardrobe. She also has a gold embroidered partlet like Catherine who owed total 58 of them, and the sleeves of her kirtle are slash-and-puff like the multiple kirtles Catherine had.

The Catalogs

The two main sources for this research are the Dowry, written in Poland in 1562, and the Inventory, written in Sweden in 1563. I’m using a version of the Dowry that’s translated in Finnish in 1903, so I don’t have the original -and even if I did, I couldn’t read it. Criticism must be kept in mind when using this list, because it’s a second-hand source.

The Inventory too is re-written, but it’s a copy and uses the original language. The way I see it, it can be used as a primary source.

Catalogs are divided roughly to jewelry, bonnets, gowns, kirtles and kirtle sleeves, linens and other, with few differences in between. The Dowry lists fewer items than the Inventory and doesn’t describe all of them individually. However when it does describe something, it’s much more detailed than the descriptions in the Inventory. There are only few matches between the two catalogs, and Catherine seems to have acquired loads of new clothes while in Turku. That’s another question, however, so I won’t be discussing it here.

A Short History

This is a very short history behind the ongoing project.  A longer story can be found for example here.

Catherine Jagellon (Polish Katarzyna Jagiellonka, Finnish and Swedish Katari(i)na Jagellonica) was the youngest daughter of Zygmunt I, king of Poland. Her mother Bona was from the Milanese Sforza family.

Catherine c. 1555 by Lucas Cranach

In 1562 the 36-year-old Catherine married John, the duke of Finland, who was son to the Swedish king Gustav Vasa. The couple settled in John’s home castle of Turku, but their stay there was only 9 months long. King Eric, John’s elder brother, had them arrested because of John’s too independent politics.

Now, what interests us the most are the two catalogs that resulted from these incidents. From 1562 survives a catalog from Poland listing Catherine’s dowry, and the other is written in Sweden in 1563 after the arrest. These catalogs will be referred to as the Dowry and the Inventory from now on.